(Suhas Misra - in foreground. Picture credits: Outlook Business)
InsideIIM is proud to launch the Career Perspectives Series. The idea is to provide a perspective on careers through interviews with really illustrious alumni from top B schools. We will be interviewing alumni from different walks of life - entrepreneurs, business leaders, social leaders, and artists. We inaugurate this series with an interview with Suhas Misra, co-founder and director of Hector Beverages. Suhas graduated from IIM Calcutta in 2003. He worked at Coca-Cola for two years, before joining Nokia, and then a start-up called Channel Play. His most recent gig - his most famous, was as the co-founder and director of Hector Beverages. Hector Beverages is the company behind the two quirky functional beverages - Tzinga and Paper Boat. It has quickly carved out a niche for itself, despite having to deal with deep-pocketed competitors. Over to Suhas now.
How do you define functional beverages? What is the category that you are trying to create with Hector Beverages?
Functional beverages are those that do something specific for the person drinking them. So, while most beverages will do some level of thirst quenching, a functional beverage will play an additional role. Of course, this additional role can vary, from, say, combating sleep (like Tzinga) or helping you beat the summer heat (like Paper Boat Aam Panna).
How did your experience at Coca-Cola and Nokia help you at Hector Beverages?
The corporate experience is a useful primer for any entrepreneur as it helps understand the way a small company can compete effectively. Size has advantages and disadvantages and working at large corporations helps you understand that.
How difficult was the decision to make the entrepreneurial plunge? How did you manage to convince your family?
Well, it wasn't very difficult. Entrepreneurship is not just rewarding in terms of delayed gratification but also as a process. Basically, some of us thrive on risk and if you are one of that set, entrepreneurship is a natural choice. Convincing the family, I have heard, can be quite tricky but not experienced first hand. I think people around me saw it coming before I announced it. Also, like I said, there is no real downside if you look at maximising your happiness. There are downsides if you have ventured down the path of various EMIs and associated asset-accumulation that, fortunately, I had the good sense to avoid.
After having worked in large organizations, how did you adjust to working in an unstructured environment?
I actually prefer the unstructured environment where one can define so many things. Of course, this is not to say that there is no value in processes (quite the contrary), but just that I would rather be laying down a set of processes than following them. People of both types are needed in any organisation and in no way is one superior to the other.
Could you describe your role and your journey at Hector Beverages?
In the early years, when the team was small, all roles were fuzzy. I was mostly involved in setting up our distribution. Subsequently, circa 2012, my focus was marketing.
Red Bull, your big competitor, virtually owns the market, has deep pockets, and great marketing prowess – it is said to sell a lifestyle and a way of living rather than a drink. How have you combated that?
A great description of Red Bull there- selling a lifestyle or a set of aspirations, as it were. Tzinga, on the other hand, is about functional value. The most regular consumers of Tzinga have high self-esteem and are not looking for validation from society. They are well informed and objective. Of course, there are consumers who are looking for validation (in fact, that's a big set) and so the situation is in flux.
What short-term and long-term marketing strategies have you deployed to help TZinga and Paper Boat grow and scale-up?
The one answer to that is that as a start-up you need to know the consumer better. So, the defining philosophy is specificity. The rest is detail- presence on social media (incidentally, a lot of consumers have mentioned being totally in love with the Paper Boat Facebook page, or with Tzinga on Twitter), and tactically using conventional media.
How did the MBA help you in your career?
I have heard a lot of people say that the MBA did not help them. I can see why one would say so, because unlike an engineering course (learning a particular programming language, finding a job writing code in that language) or many others, the one-to-one correspondence between courses on campus and the jobs people find themselves in is not there.
However, I think that the way my method of thinking changed, from being quite intuitive to structured, through my MBA was amazing. Like I said, it cannot be attributed to a single course (although for sure, to some courses much more than others) but to the whole. Also, being at a great campus like IIM Calcutta, it was great to connect with so many smart people. There are other ways in which the MBA helped as well: the wonderful alumni network and the confidence (that is often criticised as a sense of entitlement but that's another story)
What is your message to MBA graduates who are about to begin their jobs this season? What is your message to those who are interested in entrepreneurship?
I think in the shift to the professional world, there is a certain pressure to follow or imitate seniors in the organisation that comes at the cost of thinking from first principles. So, my message to MBA graduates would be to start their careers with a strong focus on the latter. Basically, operate with high confidence and ask the obvious questions.
To those interested in entrepreneurship, my message is to, well, do it. Right away. Make a (small) list of mentors, seek their thoughts but do what you think is right and get going with (as Dr. King said), "the fierce urgency of now".
Team InsideIIM would like to thank the External Relations Cell at IIM Calcutta for their co-operation to make this interview happen.
Visit the home page of IIM Calcutta External Relations Cell on InsideIIM
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